The Next Step
Instead of the Rocket, it'll be Rusty.
The expectation that the next match at the 2012 Australian Open for Canada's Milos Raonic would be against U.S. star Andy Roddick was altered dramatically when Roddick was forced out of the tournament with a hip injury partway through his match with Australia's Lleyton Hewitt.
Instead of Roddick, Raonic will now face the 30-year-old Hewitt, a former Grand Slam champion so battered by injuries in recent years that he has fallen to No. 181 in world rankings and may be in his final season on the ATP tour.
Hewitt, however, will have a huge national following behind him for the match, a tricky obstacle in itself for a youngster like Raonic. Hewitt, once the No. 1 player in the world back in 2001, lost the first set to Roddick in what was expected to be a one-sided match in favour of the American but then caught a break when Roddick pulled up in the third game of the second set with an apparent hip/groin problem.
Roddick tried to reverse his momentum and spin to his right to play a ball, seemingly wrenching his hip and falling to the ground in a mishap very similar to Raonic's fall at Wimbledon last June that knocked him out of that tournament and eventually forced him to have hip surgery.
Hewitt won the next two sets before Roddick retired, unable to play on.
"I'm happy just to be out here," said Hewitt, who has had five surgeries in the last four years, including a serious hip procedure. "I came in here with nothing to lose, played with my heart on my sleeve again."
It was a devastating blow for Roddick, who won only one tournament last year - in Memphis over Raonic in the final - and came to Australia with high hopes of resurrecting his career after falling out of the top 10 for the first time in years. The good news is that he was able to play on after the fall; the bad news is that the hard-hitting former U.S. Open champion has, like Hewitt, faced increasing injury challenges in recent years.
Hewitt and Raonic, meanwhile, have never played. "He's a big hitter," said Hewitt. "He had a breakthrough tournament last year getting through to the fourth round. It's going to be a tough match."
Nicknamed Rusty, Hewitt was once a jackrabbit on court, nearly impossible to get a ball past, but injuries have seen his quickness deteriorate, and even against Roddick he seemed to walk gingerly around the court. That said, he's an emotional, fiery player who has fed off the Aussie crowds in the past in Davis Cup competitions and could be a difficult opponent if he can turn the match against Raonic into a battle of wills.
For Raonic, the scenario is similar to that of Wimbledon last year when, had he been able to beat Gilles Muller, he would have faced Rafael Nadal, then No. 1 in the world. Now, if he can defeat Hewitt, he would then likely face Serbia's Novak Djokovic, currently the top-ranked male in tennis.
Raonic rumbled through a tough match with Germany's Phillip Petszchner and into the third round Down Under to set up the matchup with Hewitt.
It was a good win for Raonic, who finally captured a 6-4, 5-7, 6-2, 7-5 victory in just under three hours in Melbourne. Raonic fired 17 aces for the win, but in a more critical statistic, made slightly fewer unforced errors than Petzschner.
The fourth set turned into a pitched battle at 4-4 before Raonic won the final two games to take the match. Raonic had 17 aces in the match and has 30 in the tournament so far.
"It wasn't pretty today," Raonic told The Star. "I'm just happy I got through a tough opponent. I will step out on court tomorrow and practice a bit intensely on a few things, especially my serve.
"But I'm happy I created a lot of opportunities for myself (against Petzschner)."